PRIORITY: Newly arrived Rohingya refugees board a boat as they transfer to a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh


MYANMAR MINISTER TELLS UNITED NATIONS OF PLAN

MYANMAR told the United Nations refugee agen­cy on Monday (2) that its top priority was to bring back Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on Monday to set up a “working group” to plan the repatria­tion of more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh to escape an army crackdown, the Bangladeshi foreign minister said earlier.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s union minister, min­ister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, told UNHCR’s executive committee meeting in Geneva: “Our next immediate priority is to bring back the refugees who have fled to Bangladesh.

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake (centre) visits a refugee camp

“The repatriation process can start any time for those who wish to return to Myanmar. The verification of refugees will be based on the agree­ment between the Myanmar and Bangladesh gov­ernments in 1993,” he said. “Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be ac­cepted without any problem and with full assurance of their security and access to human dignity.”

More than half a Rohingya million refugees have arrived in Bangladesh over the last five weeks after militant attacks in Myanmar’s Rakh­ine state sparked violent reprisals, which the UN has said could amount to ethnic cleansing in the Buddhist-dominated country.

UN officials, diplomats and aid groups were taken on a one-day visit organised by Myanmar authorities. They were flown by helicopter to Maungdaw, epicentre of the violence.

After the visit, the United Nations repeated a call for an end to the violence, for access to the conflict zone for aid workers and for the safe re­turn of refugees.

Bangladesh’s foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali held what he called “friendly” talks in Dhaka with the representative of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “Myanmar has made a pro­posal to take back the Rohingya refugees,” the minister told reporters.

“The two sides have agreed to a proposal to set up a joint working group to coordinate the repa­triation process.”

Suu Kyi, who has been severely criticised for her failure to curb the military crackdown, said last month that Myanmar would take back “veri­fied” refugees. This would be done according to criteria agreed in 1993, when tens of thousands of Rohingya were repatriated, she said.

The Bangladesh minister gave no timeframe for repatriation and did not say whether Myanmar would also take back 300,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh during earlier violence.

He said refugees would be verified by the joint working group, but without UN involvement. “Bangladesh has proposed a bilateral agreement (with Myanmar) to help implement the repatria­tion,” he said.

Mohammad Amin, who arrived in Bangladesh last Sunday (1) with two neighbours in a rickety boat, said he would consider returning if their safety was guaranteed. “If they treat us as equals, we would go back,” he said from a coastal town near the border.

Nurul Amin, a labourer who also arrived last Sunday by boat with six of his family members, said they fled after Buddhist mobs threatened them with violence if they did not leave. “If they accept us as Rohingya, and said they would not harm us, we would return,” he said at a refugee registration booth.

The refugees are packed into overcrowded UN and makeshift camps along the Bangladesh-My­anmar border. Aid groups have warned that epi­demics could easily spread in the desperate con­ditions. (AFP, Reuters)